Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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Flood victims' families tour site; tally of missing lowered

LANGLEY, Ark. - Anxious family members Sunday toured the campground where their loved ones were staying when they were swept away by a flash flood.

They saw for themselves the steep terrain that made escaping the rising water in darkness so difficult.

About 20 people from two families were brought to the site. They were the only people remaining of those who waited at a church nearby for word of the missing.

As the search went from rescue to recovery, 19 people had been confirmed killed in the flood before dawn Friday.

Searchers recovered one body yesterday in a debris pile, and State Police Capt. Mike Fletcher said one person remained missing. He did not say whose body was found.

Police reports that three people were missing were incorrect, he said.

Many people first feared missing are not believed to have been camping at the Albert Pike Recreation Area, the part of Ouachita National Forest hardest hit by flooding, State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said. Those people are believed to be camping elsewhere in the state, he said. Rescue commanders helped the families find their loved ones' campsites and gather mementos, including baby pictures and a child's blanket.

"It's just overwhelming for them. It looks like a war zone here," said the church's pastor, Graig Cowart, who accompanied the group.

Floodwaters rose 8 feet an hour in the remote valley and with such force that asphalt was peeled from roads and bark off trees. Cabins dotting the river banks were severely damaged. Mobile homes lay on their sides.

Forecasters had warned of the approaching danger in the area during the night, but campers could easily have missed those advisories because the area is isolated.

Most campers were asleep when the Little Missouri river flooded, and by the time they awoke it was likely too late for many.

At 2 a.m., the campground was under 4 feet of water, and by 5 a.m., it was under 23.4 feet.

Crews have searched over 50 miles of rivers and tributaries at least twice since Friday, and three or four times in some places, Forest Service Incident Commander Mike Quesinberry said.

Yesterday crews used bulldozers and chain saws to look through the tangled piles of debris that lined the banks of the Little Missouri River.

The last time someone was found alive was late Friday morning.

Hopes of finding anyone else alive wilted in the oppressive heat and humidity. Yesterday's temperatures reached 90 degrees.

The storm surge leveled trees, forming debris piles up to 30 feet high and snagging articles of clothing and camping gear.

Bud Dunson, the assistant emergency coordinator for Howard County who coordinated yesterday's search efforts, warned volunteers to use caution when cutting and picking through the heaps.

At the command "Moki. Go," a light yellow Welsh Labrador retriever sniffed through a 10-foot pile, occasionally alerting its handler to a flip-flop, propane bottle, toy, or shaving kit that still held its owner's scent, but not finding any bodies.

Divers also scoured the river for clues.

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